An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Preparation of the Table and Presentation of the Offerings

It is the function of the deacon to prepare the altar for the celebration of the eucharist, preparing and placing upon it the bread and cup of wine (BCP, p. 407). The deacon may be assisted by other ministers in preparing the table. Although a corporal (small white cloth) is not required by the BCP, in most parishes it is placed on the fair linen at the preparation of the table, with the paten, chalice, and any other vessels. A sufficient quantity of bread for the celebration may be placed on the paten, or the bread may be placed on the corporal in the vessel in which it was presented. It is customary to add a little water to the wine in preparing the table. There may also be a flagon on the altar from which additional chalices may be filled after the breaking of the consecrated bread. In order to express the symbolism of the one cup, it is appropriate that there be only one chalice on the altar during the Great Thanksgiving. Depending on the local custom of the congregation, the Altar Book may be placed on the altar at this time. The preparation of the table immediately precedes the eucharistic prayer and serves to draw the congregation’s attention from the pulpit to the altar in preparation for celebrating the Great Thanksgiving.

The deacon’s function in preparing the table and placing the bread and wine upon it has been traced from the second century. At times the deacon brought a small table into the room or into the center of the congregation after the catechumens were dismissed and the prayers of the people were concluded. A white cloth was placed on the table. Offerings of bread and wine were brought to the table by the people, or the deacons moved among the people to receive the offerings. Bread and wine in sufficient quantity were put out for the sacrament, with the rest set aside for the clergy and the poor. In subsequent years the altar was prepared before the liturgy in some places. This change has been associated with the development of low Mass, in which the altar served as both pulpit and table. The 1979 BCP states that at the presentation of the offerings, representatives of the congregation will bring the people’s offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant (pp. 333, 361). The BCP also directs that at the ordination of a deacon, the newly ordained deacon prepares the bread, pours sufficient wine (and a little water) into the chalice, and places the vessels on the table before the eucharist (p. 546). The BCP clearly identifies the deacon’s function in preparing the table and receiving the offerings at the eucharist. See Corporal; see Deacon; see Offertory, Offertory Procession, Offertory Sentence.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.